Friday, May 22, 2020


Headline in The New York Times:
Trump Suggests Virus Death Count Is Inflated. Most Experts Doubt It
So there are experts who think Trump may be right? The story doesn't find any. Nevertheless, Republican bad-faith arguments and Trumpian magical are given the benefit of the doubt.

The Times subhead is:
Senior White House and health officials have sought new ways to find the extent of infections and deaths, questioning whether official counts are inflating the toll of the virus.
This makes the pursuit of alternative facts seem like a legitimate exercise in truth-seeking. It isn't. It's clearly an exercise in persuading the public that the epidemic is not as bad as it's made out to be, as well as an exercise in mollifying our infantile president, who throws txemper tantrums when there's bad news for which he can be blamed.

The story tells us:
President Trump, eager to reopen the economy, has begun questioning the official coronavirus death toll, suggesting the numbers, which have hobbled his approval ratings and harmed his re-election prospects, are inflated.

In coronavirus task force and other White House meetings, conversations with health officials have returned to similar suspicions: that the data compiled by state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include people who have died with the coronavirus but of other conditions. The numbers, some say, include too many “presumed” cases of Covid-19 and too many Americans who were never tested for the disease.
So are there knowledgeable people who agree with the White House, or even suspect that the White House may be right? The authors of the story (Noah Weiland, Maggie Haberman, and Abby Goodnough) didn't find any.
Most statisticians and public health experts say [Trump] is wrong; the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known. People are dying at their houses and nursing homes without ever being tested, and deaths early this year were likely misidentified as influenza or described only as pneumonia.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told lawmakers this month that the overall toll was likely an undercount. “I don’t know exactly what percent higher but almost certainly it is higher,” he said at a Senate health committee hearing.

Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which is closely tracking the coronavirus pandemic, said that “the officially reported numbers don’t reflect the true level of illness and death that have occurred.”

“We very much feel the reported numbers reflect an undercount,” she said....

Robert Anderson, who runs the mortality statistics branch of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Health Statistics, said the federal government deployed two parallel, related systems to tally deaths, one based on case reports and one on death certificates. He said it was unlikely that there was any kind of overcount.

“The case reporting system asks: Did the patient die from this illness?” he said. “It’s not asking if the patient with Covid-19 died. It’s asking if they died from Covid-19.” ...

At least one senior White House official has mentioned that hospitals could be inflating their coronavirus patient counts, responding to financial incentives — Medicare offers higher payments to providers for treating coronavirus patients. Several senior officials said they were unaware of such talk.

An official with the American Hospital Association disputed that idea.

“There’s guidance around what you have to do, and the clinician has to say, ‘This is the diagnosis,’” said Nancy Foster, the association’s vice president for quality and patient safety policy. “They’re putting their professional reputation on the line to say that.” ...

Epidemiologists are also rethinking their tabulations, but not in ways the White House would like. They have increasingly compared recent totals of deaths from all causes, which provide a more complete picture of the pandemic’s impact than tracking only deaths of people with confirmed diagnoses. Fatalities in the gap between the observed and normal numbers of deaths are called “excess deaths.” A study of mortality statistics in New York City showed more than 24,000 excess deaths from March 11 to May 2....

Trying to separate the cause of death in coronavirus-infected patients is “ludicrous,” said Dr. Alicia Skarimbas, a physician in Bergen County, N.J., who has treated around 75 Covid-19 patients.

“I have yet to have anyone infected with Covid die from anything else,” she said.
It sure sounds as if everyone with specialized knowledge relevant to this subject agrees that the counting has been done in good faith and has, if anything, missed many COVID-19 deaths. But we're assured by Weiland et al. that the White House pusuit of lower numbers is both sincere and worthwhile.
Inside the White House, doubts about the official numbers are pervasive, though they come in different forms. Mr. Trump is in search of good news to promote his administration’s response to the pandemic and to press states to reopen. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, is a numbers obsessive and wants her own data to supplement information coming in from the states and the C.D.C. One official has even accused hospitals of potentially exaggerating their coronavirus patient counts to milk money from Medicare.

Top White House officials have even discussed appointing a “forensic” team to audit how some hospital systems and state health departments have been tallying infections and deaths, according to one senior administration official....

Dr. Birx ... has said publicly that the American health care system incorporates a generous definition of a death caused by Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“In this country we’ve taken a very liberal approach to mortality,” Dr. Birx said at a White House news conference last month. “There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the I.C.U., and then have a heart or kidney problem — some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a Covid-19 death.” ...

Dr. Birx was caught off guard in April when states began incorporating both confirmed and “probable” cases and deaths, senior administration officials said, a change that encouraged a deeper suspicion among those who have doubted the overall mortality figures.
But if these arguments are all refuted by knowledgeable people -- see above -- then why present this as a White House exercise in truth-seeking? Why not identify it as what it is -- an effort to cook the books, and to distract from the strong evidence of an undercount by insisting there's an overcount?

But mainstream media reporters have been letting Republicans get away with bad-faith exercises like this for years now.

I guess they're not going to stop now.

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